Packaging: What's the Value of Open Architecture?

Automation World’s sister publication, Packaging World, recently posed the following question to its LinkedIn group known as Packaging Machinery.

Automation World’s sister publication, Packaging World (www.packworld.com), recently posed the following question to its LinkedIn group known as Packaging Machinery: “Considering how often we hear that an open-architecture approach in controls platforms is a desirable thing when it comes to building packaging machines, do you agree or disagree; and, if open architecture is such a good idea, who benefits from it—machine builder or machine buyer? Among the thoughtful responses were these.

From Jens Agerskov, CEO at Dencore Packaging Systems APS in the Copenhagen, Denmark area: “Machine buyers—they are not held hostage to the manufacturers.”

From Charles Muskat, sales manager for Triangle Package Machinery Co., based in the greater San Diego area: “I think both buyer and builder benefit. Ease of sourcing components, standardization, shortened learning curves, etc. are all good things. 

[From my perspective] as a machinery manufacturer, one of the things that open architecture has generated is the idea among end-users that they will have complete access to the PLC code. This opens up a can of insurance worms because of the potential for the end-user to modify something that makes the machine less safe. Triangle has taken the approach of providing copies of programs with all comments, but we reserve the ability to make code changes so we may verify functionality and safety. We then offer lifetime archiving…. 

One complaint I hear from end-users is the restrictive nature of the 800-lb gorilla of the controls industry for our segment. High pricing for replacement items and minimal backwards compatibility when new generations are released are two main concerns. But in the next breath everyone still specifies the gorilla! Overall, however, open architecture has been a great success for us and our customers.”

Agerskov: “How do you understand open architecture and how do you work it? Most of the OpenPLC component manufacturers still program in their own software, layers on top of CodeSyS or other platforms that are semi open.”

From John Kowal, market development manager in the greater Chicago area for B&R Industrial Automation: “Everything is relative. I’ve been involved in industrial controls standards for 15+ years, and as a board member of OMAC [Organization for Machine Automation and Control] I’m still in the middle of it. From a practical standpoint, common look and feel means a lot. Cars make a great analogy. I don’t really want to ask for a Ford motor in a brand new Chevy, but either brand should have the speedometer, turn signals, and ignition switch more or less where I expect them. 
The unnatural relationship in the North American packaging market with the 800-lb. gorilla—as Charles Muskat so accurately described it—is less about open architecture and more about human nature. But it’s changing.”

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